Thursday, 1 November 2012

Instruction artwork

All 80s arcade machines had game instructions typically either on the control panel or on the screen bezel. A later project is that I'm going to modify the Mine Storm software so that it can  be coin operated. When I have success I am thinking  there that there will be a small sticker with instructions placed on the left hand bottom conrner of the screen bezel for the cabinet. Here's a screen dump of the artwork I am considering having made up as a sticker. Of course it also means that some way is need to identify the button number - either numbers printed on the buttons or numbers printed on the control panel artwork. Still very much work in progress at the moment:

Monday, 10 September 2012

Kick box (post 2)

Preparing the kick box took longer then expected. I bought some gloss black paint from my local supermarket and set about painting the kickbox. However, the finished result was terrible. Despite trying to apply the paint on thinly, paint drips still appeared. Small paint balls were also visible. I thought I was being careless, so sand papered down again with fine sand paper and tried painting again. The result was just as poor. The folllowing photos show the process. For sand papering first I used very course paper followed by fine sand paper and a little spit! On the fourth go I tried a different paint. This was Wickes Exterior satin (black) for wood. This gave an excellent finish.

After the paint was dry I attached the four cabinet slides on the corners and mounted the two cabinet wheels. The first picture shows the kickbox in its upright position with the back in view whilst the second photo shows the kickbox underside.The  final arrangement of the kickbox with the castor wheels positioned at the rear is clearly seen. This kickbox including the stand off of the slides adds 17cm to the height of the cabinet!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Kick box (post 1)

I’m currently constructing a new wooden kick box to replace the damaged kick box that originally came with the cabinet. The existing kick box had bits chipped off at the corners and also showed evidence of water damage. I had previously paid a carpenter to make a replacement kick box but I was not happy with the result. It did not seem very strong.

I’m going to improve on the existing box through a number of modifications. Firstly, I’m increasing the height of the box, so the cabinet and the Vectrex screen are higher. This will allow tall persons (such as me) to comfortably play the machine (I'm too old to suffer neck aches).  Secondly I am considering some metal feet for the kick box which will protect the box base from scuffs if the cabinet is dragged across the floor. This also provides some protection from water damage as the wooden walls of the box would be raised off the ground.  Finally, I've seen some company built arcade cabinets that have wheels positioned on their rear making it easier for them to be moved. The wheels are positioned so that the cabinet can be tilted and the pushed or pulled rather like a sack truck hand trolley. I want to make my cabinet look like a real cabinet rather than a home cabinet, so having such wheels will help make that aim more convincing.

I just received some bits I ordered from for the wooden kick box. These guys are good guys and very helpful. They sell a whole lot of parts for the would-be arcade system maker.
I bought four cabinet slides and two cabinet wheels.  Regarding the cabinet slides I had thought whether I really wanted these or perhaps levelling feet instead to compensate for uneven floor surfaces. However, given my cabinet will be placed on relatively thick carpet pile I felt I could get away with cabinet slides instead. The slides are round and will make it easy to fine position the cabinet resting place.  The mouting of the wheels will require some careful thought. They will need to be arranged in the kick box so they are on the back wall of the box but affixed in such a way that not all weight is on the back wall when the cabinet is tilted. Ideally they would not be very visually obtrusive either and would only touch the floor when the cabinet is titled.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Installation of the marquee backlight

The cabinet didn't come supplied with back lighting for the marquee and the area for the back light was masked of with a black plastic panel. However, it did come with a wooden panel for mounting a light. This panel slides into the marquee area. Also mounted on this panel is a speaker. When the panel is slid in, the speaker position is directly above a slotted area (resemebles a grill)  underneath the marquee to allow the sound from the speaker to get through.

Today I mounted the light fitting and light onto the panel.

I am now able to slide this panel into the marquee area. See below with the backlight switched on! Next is some perspex and artwork. I could have different artwork depending on the game installed but to begin with I am going with the European Vectrex logo. This will be a sticker (I ordered from bigange83 on a transparent blue background perspex.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Wooden screen bezel complete...

A new wooden screen bezel is complete and installed....Admittedly the Vectrex screen looks small, but the proportions look right, and the screen doesn't look ridicously small or silly  in the cabinet.

Actually, this is not the end of it. I have a friend who is kindly machining with a CNC machine a perspex bezel that will sit on top of the wooden bezel. In addition I have just ordered a sheet of glass that will sit on top of the perspex bezel.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Lamp purchased for Marquee

Purchased and received the lamp and fitting that I will use for lighting the marquee. I was considering whether to used LED backligting or conventional tube. In the end I opted for a fluorsecent tube as this is what was used in the early arcade systems. The fittting is a  T5 Link Fluorescent Fitting(15484) normally used for under cupboard lighting in kitchens. This fitting  accomodates a  300mm length  8w T5 type tube. I bought this on ebay from tradesmanelectrical.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Ongoing work...

Directly following on from my previous post, here is a picture of the front of the cabinet. The Vectrex is supported by a wooden frame with a hole that accomdates the rear of the Vectrex. As the front of the Vectrex is bigger than the rear, it is unable to fall through the frame. I put the Vectrex at an angle otherwise if positioned completely upright, the height of the cabinet would have to be increased and the Vectrex raised even higher so that its screen suited to the player's eye level. Putting the vectrex at an angle means that people of different heights can all see the screen. My carpenter is currently completing a new wooden screen bezel. When the wooden bezel is in place, the Vectrex will be securely positioned. Ignore the rubbish underneath the Vectrex, that's just my temporay store for my tools and bits and pieces.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

I have now mounted a Vectrex inside the cabinet.  I have arranged it so that with the removal of just two screws the panel holding the Vectrex can just swing to a horizontal positon resting on a wooden dowel on the inside of each cabinet side. The picture shows the rear of the cabinet.

Note, there is an original  speaker positioned at the top of the cabinet - I will eventually connect the speaker to an amplifier which in turn I will connect direct to a pre amplification point on the Vectrex PCB (should remove some of that infamous buzz). Beyond the speaker (at the front of the cabinet) there is also space to put a back light  for the marquee.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Marquee and screen bezel

Following the disaster of last week i'm going to make a new wooden panel for mounting the coin box. But whilst that is being arranged I have been starting to think about making a back lit marquee and screen bezel for the Vec-Cab. I'm going to use a translucent neon blue perspex as I feel this fits in well with the colours for the Euro Vectrex. Here'sa photo of a recent eBay purchase containing a perspex panel ((727 sheet, cast acrylic 3mm A3). I got this from The Wholesale POS CO they are a  company and sell various bits on ebay.

Also shown is another eBay purchase: a Vectrex sticker. I got this from ebayer bigange83 . In hindsight, the sticker is not exactly what I wanted. So I'm going to purchase a similar sticker but with larger letters and coloured black. Next thing is to work out how to cut the perspex and get a nice finish.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


With the help of the neighbour the cabinet was easily carried up the stairs to the back bedroom. However, it was whilst orienting the cabinet so it was facing the correct way a disaster happend. The neighbour grabbed the top of the wooden panel containing the hole for the coin box mechanism and exerted an upward lifting pressure and subsequently snapped off the wooden panel at the top of the hole. Out of all the places to grab the cabinet he grabbed it there! You should have seen my face whilst I tried to contain all emotions and the neighbour made a sharp exit.

It can’t be fixed with glue, so I’ll have to get a new piece made. I doubt though if I can find similar finished wood, so I think I’ll just go for a black painted piece of wood. An all black wooden panel shouldn't look too out of place since the panel area is dominated by the black plate with the coin inserts.

The photo shows what is left of the original panel after removing it from the cabinet. It’s in more bits because I struggled to get it out in one piece because quite a few wood dowels and a lot of wood glue had been used to originally fix it to the side panels.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Vec-Cab must move

Girlfriend isn’t at all happy about the current resting place of the cabinet in the living room. She wants it to go upstairs so it’s out of sight. Fortunately, the cabinet is now narrower, so the limited stair width as is commonly found in a terrace house,  is not an obstacle to the move.
I  have removed the cabinet internals to reduce the weight and am waiting for a kind neighbour to give me a hand to carry it upstairs.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Vec-Cab has been on a diet

The carpenter had taken the cabinet back with him in his van so he could work on it in his workshop. Today he came back to return it! The photo shows the cabinet after it has been on its diet and having just entered the house (I also put a Vectrex inside leaning temporarily on a peice of wood behind it and supported by the cabinet). The cabinet is now just 41 cm’s wide (instead of the original 56 cm). As you can see from the photo the control panel which originally had dual controls has had its right side cut off, thus leaving only one joystick.

The hole under the control panel is for the coin mechanism panel. This hole originally  had around 6.5 cm of wood surface on each side.  I did have a fear that cutting the sides of the wood so close to the hole would reduce the panel’s strength. However, it seems to be fairly sturdy.

The carpenter did complain about the cutting of the cabinet saying that the chip wood was very brittle and it was very difficult to make a clean cut. Close inspection does show a rather serrated edge of the cut wood and I do wonder what tooth size he was using on his jig saw blade. Fortunately, the cut wood with its serrated edges/sides is sandwiched between the two side panels so it is not a big problem. I could probably fill the uneven edges with black sealant afterwards. 

The carpenter also added a new wooden box to the base. This is done in MDF and does not look to be that strong as he has only used glue to join the panels. This is something I will replace with my own design. Likewise the wooden bezel has also been cut from MDF. Unfortunately, the edges do not seem that straight. Is this carpenter really a carpenter :O ? I will replace the bezel he has made too. 

On the whole though the cabinet  proportions with respect to the Vectrex screen don't look out of place.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Lateral thinking – finally a solution

As the old proverb goes- If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain. In other words - If things do not change the way you want them to, you must adjust to the way they are.
Faced with no good and obvious solutions for making the Vectrex screen larger I have decided to use the Vectrex with its built in display in the cabinet.  Of course this looks a bit silly, so to reduce the silliness I will arrange to reduce the width of the cabinet. I have stated in previous posts that my goal is to make an arcade cabinet that would not look out of place in an 80’s amusement arcade. Well, maybe I have to compromise on that goal and say that my cabinet should not look out of place in a mid 70’s amusement arcade. The early games from then did use small displays. Take Pong from 1972. This was an upright arcade cabinet with a 13” B&W TV. So, true retro means small screens - at least that will be my argument.

I’m having new work tops in my kitchen fitted at the moment. I’ve had a word with the carpenter and he’s agreed to disassemble the cabinet and take a few inches off each side with his jig saw to reduce the cabinet width. With a narrower cabinet, there won’t be enough space for dual controls, and I will need a new control panel catering for just one player. He's agreed to cut the control panel too, and make a new bezel to put the Vectrex behind. Can't wait....

Oh, what a small screen you have!

I wish developing this cabinet was a full time job rather than having to try and steal an hour here and there. There’s so much I want to do with the Vectrex but oh so little time.
Anyway, although not much progress as taken place in the physical world with respect to the cabinet build I have been busy thinking (again) about the practicalities of a Vectrex based arcade cabinet. In the previous post I mentioned my concerns about the Vectrex display being and looking too small for the cabinet. Well, in fact that wasn’t the first time I had been thinking about that. For a couple of years now I had felt that the Vectrex display would look too small in a full size arcade cabinet and that would be the biggest stumbling block to achieving a realistic arcade cabinet.
I mentioned a long time ago in my Sunday 23rd August news entry that I would ideally want to use a 17" - 19" monitor with the Vectrex.  It would have to be vector based and hence CRT based. Forget about the electronic circuitry changes required to the Vectrex in order to operate it with a larger sized vector monitor (at least one person on the Vectrex forums has claimed to have done this) :- the bigger problem is that I’d been searching for three years and just couldn’t find a vector monitor anywhere.  I did read some years ago about another Vectrex fan that modified his B&W CRT TV to work as a Vectrex vector display. However, I don’t have the knowledge on how to modify a TV and was unable to contact that guy.
So at that time I made an investigation into alternative methods of getting the Vectrex to work with a bigger screen. I came up with something I called the Vectrex Optical Display Engine (VODE) module (you can see it on YouTube).  The VODE simply housed an old 640x480 pixel digital camera operating in video mode and pointing at a standard Vectrex console. This camera was connected to a 22inch TV via its composite input. 

However, I was disappointed with the final result. Not only for the fact that the resulting graphics on the TV were comprised of pixels instead of crystal sharp vector lines, but also because the resolution of the camera was poor. Perhaps, if the camera resolution was significantly higher the results would have been better, but the result would still be less than optimal considering that the TV operates in raster scan mode.

Next, I remembered that in the early days of television, they included lens to make the then small CRT screens appear bigger. I also recalled seeing adverts from the early 90’s where add on lenses could be purchased for TV’s and monitors. I believe it was in 2009 that Vectrex fan DarrlyB experimented with a Fresnel lens to magnify the Vectrex screen. He used a commercialised version of this type of lens which is normally sold as a book reading aid. It’s like a cross between a magnifying glass and a sheet of paper.

 I purchased one of these lenses too to carry out similar experiments. However, this type of lens was less than satisfactory. When you were not directly in front of the lens there was little observable magnification. I found that when I was looking off centre, the spiral structure built into the lens played havoc with the display of the vector graphics. On most of the games there seemed to be some strange prism and line spiralling effects.

Another potential issue is, if I could have a bigger screen, I would also need bigger overlays. Some Vectrex fans like playing games without the overlays, but for me some overlays really do add to the game, take Pole Position, Vectrexians or Vector Pilot for instance. The accompanying overlays for those games really do add the illusion of colour.
So all the above captured thoughts relate to problems, but worry not I have a solution….

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The cabinet is here!

Finally the cabinet has been delivered and oh boy what a sorry state it is in. Ok maybe I am being too dramatic and the cabinet is not that bad considering the £40 I paid for it.  But as you can see from the photo it’s just the bare bones. There is no marquee, only a piece of black plastic. The sides are scratched and chipped at the edges. The gold t-mold strip on the edges are chipped in several places. One area looks to have even been melted from a cigarette.  The wooden kick box on the base of the cabinet appears to be warped due to water damage and needs to be completely replaced. 

On the plus side, the cabinet did come with a working twin coin insert mechanism, a  twin joystick and button control panel, a JAMMA power supply, an assortment of buttons and joysticks. Also supplied was a wooden panel door for the back and the opening  reveals plenty of space for the monitor and electronics.

Initial thoughts so far, are that there is far too much space in the cabinet and putting a Vectrex in there with its 5” x 8” monitor will look just plain ridiculous. Apart from that I’ve got an underlying cabinet structure that should form the basis of the VecCab.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

In search of and finding a cabinet

So the plan was to purchase an old cabinet from eBay and ideally with a smaller size than those available for purchase as a kit – there are cabinet types called mini arcade – which are narrower and have a smaller foot print then the norm. For around three months I’ve been typing in “arcade cabinet” into the eBay search engine to see what was available. I didn't need a working arcade cabinet and indeed now and then some sorry examples of broken arcade cabinets did appear on the eBay listings with bid prices ranging from £30-£70. However, one thing I didn't take into account was that all the cabinets are large and transportation soon ramps up the cost. All eBay entries for the cabinets demanded collection from the eBay "winner". I bided my time until finally an eBay listing appeared for an arcade cabinet in my locality. It was an old JAMMA cabinet which had seen better days. Some items come with it like a coin mechanism, control panel and power supply but on the whole it is just a carcass - no monitor and no electronics - Ideal for me. I contacted the seller and he told me he had intended it for a MAME conversion but had never got round to it. His wife had been complaining because it was in his living room. I asked him about delivering it and he was happy to bring it round in his car (turns out he only lives 20mins away). I was the only bidder and have won the cabinet at a cost of £40! So now just waiting for confirmation of a mutually agreeable delivery time…

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Cabinet Design

For the finished cabinet I want it to look as professionally made as possible. I know I can think intelligently and design something very well taking into account all sorts of considerations; the problem is when it comes to actually building it. My poor wood working skills are matched by my limited range of tools (maybe that’s the reason ?). I can stick a shelf up but I'm no DIY expert so making a cabinet from scratch is a big "no no" for me. Getting a carpenter to make a cabinet made from my plans would be expensive. There are cabinet kits available but they seem very expensive, full size and would still require modification. An example is the flat pack from Arcade World UK. I liked the idea of flat pack because it would be more manageable for delivery to my house. The dimensions of that cabinet are Height:160cm x Width:58cm x Depth:60cm which I think are pretty near standard. However, the width of that cabinet brings to mind another point I will need to cover in a later blog:- if I were to put a Vectrex in that cabinet it would look really silly because of the Vectrex console's small 9” display and an alternative (bigger) screen would be required. So still searching for a cabinet solution…

Thursday, 7 June 2012


Here's a photo Vectrex fan Rudy sent me a couple years ago showing his  reconstruction of a Mini-Cade which was a Vectrex based bar table top arcade machine which could be seen in some US bars in the 80's. With the Mini-Cade the player had to put money in to get a set amount of time on the Mine Storm game. A red LED flashed when the player was required to add another coin for more game time. When the time runs out the controls are disabled. Interestingly, the Vectrex consoles were used totally unmodified (no software or electronic hardware changes). Even the Vectrex controller is used as is - they just put a metal sheet with cut outs over the top. Four original Mini-Cades are known to still exist.

For me I want to produce a similar looking system but that is full height and when inserting coins you get extra lives rather than time.

Vec-Cab Genesis

The MB/GCE Vectrex is the one and only games console that employs vector scan rather than raster scan technology to generate images. The Vectrex was released to the video game market in 1982. Although more than quarter of a century has passed since its conception, this unique gaming system is still able to "hold its own" in the 21st century! There is an active Vectrex user community and new software and hardware continues to be developed. This blog document's my journey to make a full size upright arcade cabinet based on the Vectrex.

Back in the early 80’s the most exciting arcade machines were vector based. The Vectrex home arcade console at the time being also vector based brought the truest arcade experience into the home.  Indeed, the Vectrex has the honourable claim as being  the first games console to have had a video game - Cosmic Chasm - ported from it to the arcade (normally it's the other way round with popular arcade games being ported to  home computers and games consoles). But what if the Vectrex could be a true arcade machine of the likes seen in the 80's arcades, i.e. a full height upright  arcade cabinet, where extra lives are paid for with coins? For me that would be a really cool idea.
This is the genesis for a project that I am going to call Vec-Cab (short for Vectrex arcade Cabinet) - That is to build a full size arcade cabinet with the Vectrex fully integrated inside. My ultimate aim is if the finished cabinet  were to be placed in an 80's arcade hall it would not look out of place at all. Therefore it must have all things expected of an early arcade machine, e.g. coin operated,  artwork, marquee etc. To achieve this will require not only a custom cabinet but also bespoke electronic hardware and software to complement the current functionality of the Vectrex.
In this blog I will document my activities relating to this project including ideas and progress. Although  I only start to blog now, this project has been in the making for over a year, with some work and purchase of parts already in progress.